Bread Baker: Ciabatta

For the pressed sandwich I was making for my Mother’s Day picnic, I knew there was only one bread option: Ciabatta.

I hadn’t baked ciabatta before, so I turned to Peter Reinhart’s classic book, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, for guidance. I ended up with two loaves of incredible bread. The crumb was tender, with lots of the giant holes ciabatta must have.

Ciabatta can be a very wet dough and hard to handle. Wetter is better, though, because the finished bread will have more holes. I left my dough a little drier than I probably should have. Next time, now that I’m familiar with how the dough behaves, I’ll push the envelope more.

This bread requires an overnight starter, but the next day the bread can be made in a few hours.

Poolish starter:

  • 2 1/2 cups (11.25 ounces) bread flour
  • 1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) room-temperature water
  • 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

Bread ingredients:

  • 3 cups (13.5 ounces) bread flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 6 tablespoons to 3/4 cup lukewarm water

Step 1. The day before baking, combine the poolish ingredients. Let rise on the counter for 4 hours, then move to the refrigerator.

Step 2. One hour before baking, take the poolish out of the fridge. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and yeast. Add the poolish and 6 tablespoons of water. Mix together with the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, then switch to the dough hook when everything is integrated. The dough should be clearing the sides of the bowl but sticking to the bottom. Add more flour or water as necessary. (I used 1/2 cup of water and I could have used more.) Knead for about 7 minutes.

Step 3. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Stretch it out, then fold it into thirds (like folding a letter to put it in an envelope). Flour and cover the dough. Let it sit for 30 minutes, then repeat the folding process. Then let the dough rise for 90 minutes.

Step 4. Divide the dough in half on a well-floured surface. Fold  each half in thirds again. Then shape each loaf on a sheet of parchment paper, stretching the dough into roughly a 12×5-inch rectangle. Use your fingertips to stretch and press down the dough.

Let the dough rise again for about 60 minutes. During this time, preheat the oven (and baking stone if available) to 500 degrees F.

Step 5. Slide the parchment paper onto the baking stone (or cookie sheet). Spray the sides of the oven with water. Do this twice more during the first 5 minutes of baking. Then reduce the heat to 450 degrees F and bake for another 15 minutes, until the bread has browned and reaches an internal temperature of 205 degrees F.

Let the bread cool for at least an hour before slicing.

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